You can still listen in on Hal Humphreys’s conversation with CA investigator Tim Santoni—just click the video above.
In Pursuit, we’re posting occasional recaps of our favorite webinars, including an edited transcript and links to resources mentioned in the video. We hope you’ll find this a useful resource — if so, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. And join us live for our free monthly webinar, featuring editor Hal Humphreys and guest stars from our industry.
In the meantime, here’s Hal speaking with Tim Santoni on business development on January 23, 2020. Think of it as more of a highlights reel — we’ve whittled it down considerably for brevity and clarity, so to get the full dose, you’ll have to watch the video (at the top of this page).
And don’t miss Santoni’s excellent article from last fall: Business Development for Private Investigators: What Works and What Doesn’t
HAL HUMPHREYS: Tim Santoni is an investigator out of California. He focuses primarily on workers compensation, counterfeiting, and other civil cases. We always like getting content from Tim because he’s smart, and he knows what he’s talking about.
Tim, tell us about yourself!
TIM SANTONI: I’ve been in the investigation business since 2001. We acquired a company called National Trademark Investigations. I worked surveillance, fieldwork, in-house investigations, research, and trademark investigations. Learned the business hands-on from my dad and from the former owners, and became passionate about the legal side, the justice process. So litigation investigations is kind of a theme — gathering admissible evidence that sticks.
And my goal when I took over the business in 2011 was to elevate the industry in the way we conduct ourselves as investigators. That’s when I launched our background screening division, helping clients mitigate risk in the hiring process. We always get involved after the fraud, the embezzlement, the counterfeiting — the fun, juicy cases investigators are adept in handling. But I really wanted to help business owners mitigate risks, share with them some things we learn that go awry.
Targeted, Face-to-Face Marketing
HAL: I’m a sole proprietor, and I have not spent a lot of time doing Internet marketing. I’ve spent my time meeting the attorneys I want to work with. How do you feel about that super-targeted marketing?
TIM: It’s all about relationships. In California, there are a ton of attorneys. My thought was face to face meetings and roundtables was the best way to get in front of those attorneys. They work by the billable hour, so time away is difficult. Strategically, breakfast, dinner — off-hour things — is the way to do what Hal is talking about, because they’ve got minimum billables. But you’ve got to fight for that face time, because they’re entrusting you with their clients. They’re not going to easily turn over their cases to you and trust you.
HAL: Let’s get back to marketing. First off, how do you approach email?
TIM: Email open rates are on the decline. It’s harder and harder to get emails to the right eyeballs. We use MailChimp. I think it’s about what content you deliver that brings value. So we do one newsletter a month, and nothing in our email has anything to do with our services, pricing, or offerings. It’s highlighting clients and relevant topics. I have a YouTube show called the Santoni Spotlight, highlighting people we work with. The feedback is people like it and look forward to it.
You have to use email to build relationships and customize your audiences, specific messaging for specific audiences. So if you’re doing insurance defense, talk about insurance defense. Or family law. You’ve got to be relevant.
HAL: There’s a balance. If you send out too many emails, people will unsubscribe or delete. If you don’t send enough, they don’t notice. Do you look at metrics and see what people engage with?
TIM: Open rates are one thing, but we look at who’s clicking what. Tailor your content to what people like. Also, most law firms are getting tons of emails. If your target market is attorneys, be aware — it’s difficult to get through their filters. One other point: You have to build a list. Some of the most valuable data we get back [via email] is “Joe Smith left this firm.” So we go to LinkedIn and find out where he went. It’s an account management tool at your fingertips. And when you get an “Out of Office” that refers you to their assistant, that’s lead gen, because there’s new people you didn’t know about.
HAL: I’m glad you touched on building that list. The list is the thing! How do you get new people into that funnel?
TIM: Our philosophy is we’re not going to spam or buy lists. We build our lists from known, active clients and lead gen on our website. People who opt in, from LinkedIn to Instagram to networking in person. Most of the time, on a new case, there’s 2-4 new attorneys and paralegals, who know you, to add to your list. Be respectful of people’s time and inboxes. It’s valuable real estate.
Be respectful of people’s time and inboxes. It’s valuable real estate.
HAL: Getting people into that list is difficult. Once you get them there, you do not want to lose them. Does MailChimp allow you to segment your audience?
TIM: It does. You can segment your groups by tags. You can have a criminal defense group, a civil litigation group, a family law group. And you can send targeted campaigns to those audiences.
You need to deliver value, be on topic, get people’s attention. The medium you select is just the delivery mechanism.
HAL: You’ve got to have something incredibly useful for the people you’re talking to. All we can do is say, “I’m here when you need me.” With my list of attorneys, I’ve got a calendar of, “Oh, I haven’t talked to ‘Bill’ in several months.” I’ll call Bill and say, ‘Is this a good time to talk?’” If he says yes, we’ll catch up, and that one question, “Is there anything I can do for you?” almost always gets me business from that person.
Company Websites & SEO
HAL: Let’s talk about company sites. How important is a website?
TIM: In this day and age, people are making decisions about whether to hire you before they reach out. So it’s the first impression. Especially attorneys — they’re gonna scour the site and know everything about you before they reach out. So it needs to feel professional and represent you. They’re not just buying a report; they’re buying US, our ideas and information, the relationship and how we communicate. You need to illustrate how you’ll make their life easier.
We live in a one-touch world, you click a button and goods are delivered. So you’ve got to make it really easy for them to figure out what you do and how you do it.
HAL: Absolutely! Attorneys are making decisions about whether to hire you using that website. If it’s professional, you’ve cleared the first hurdle. If you can write, you’ve cleared that hurdle.
If you were looking for someone to help out with a website, who would you recommend? (Say Ruben Roel!)
TIM: (Takes the hint.) Ruben, out of Texas — Investigator Marketing. We’ve done website revisions 4,5,6,7 times. Ruben understands the messaging an investigator needs: What’s your niche? Is it regional? What type of work? Don’t be everything to everybody. Keep it simple.
And keeping it updated, adding good blog content, photos, and relevant videos is crucial. Again, a website is just a platform. What Ruben can help you get right is the messaging, to drive business. You don’t care if you get 1,000 views. You care if you get 3 or 4 new cases. That’s the most important metric: a good website that drives calls and emails for things you can actually make money doing. If not, it’s a distraction.
HAL: It’s important to drive traffic with things that actually make a difference. So, I’ve got two Instagram accounts. I really do despise posting, but one thing I try not to do is get bogged down in how many people “like” it. Influencing on Instagram is not going to bring paying work in my doors.
TIM: But if you’re driving profile views on IG and you have a way to get someone down the funnel, you’re selling a course or some other tool, great! But posting for posting’s sake, it’s not monetizable.
HAL: Right. Going back to company website, talk about SEO, a couple of things you do to stay up there in the rankings.
TIM: I think SEO is the most misunderstood term in Internet marketing. Google and Bing algorithms that prioritize your search are organic. What it comes down to is consistency of posting content. If you go with someone like Ruben, who knows how to structure and organize the pages in a way the search engines like, that’s your first step. But there are so many pieces of SEO that are constantly changing, that you cannot know unless you are a Web developer. It’s a full-time job. It’s cost prohibitive.
The baseline is, if you get a sold site on a solid platform that’s formatted well and has the right tags, and understand how to update pages and add blogposts, you optimize your chances of being found. If you’re writing blogs no one searches for, no one’s going to find them. So in developing a topic, you need to find out what people actually search. What we type in for criminal investigator to find Hal is NOT what the mom whose son just got arrested for armed robbery is going to type in. Understand who your audience is and what they’re going to look for.
It’s a long ride. There are no short cuts. Thousands of investigators are competing for the space. That’s my take.
HAL: You have to make a decision: Am I going to be a Web design/coding expert and do that, or am I going to be a private investigator and do that? If you’re going to be a PI, hand it off to somebody who knows what they’re doing.
HAL: Let’s talk about Pay Per Click ads. What are your suggestions there?
TIM: PPC ads — the second-most confusing thing. It’s so complex; it’s very difficult to manage. So when people say it doesn’t work, it does work. But unless you know, “OK, I do domestic infidelity surveillance in Omaha, and I can run that ad in a range is 50 miles. I need to get 10 calls to get 5 leads to get 3 surveillances to get $1,000 each, that’s $3,000 in my pocket. I know those ads are gonna cost me $250.” Until you get to that point, it’s hard to understand what to budget and what the ROI is.
We’re in the employment background screening business. We are not First Advantage. We are not Sterling. Those people are spending $30-40,000 a month on paid ads. I can’t compete with that, so I’ve got to figure out a different strategy. If you’re an investigator in an area where nobody is, you may be able to buy “surveillance” for 35¢/click, but how many leads are there? That’s the challenge. Unless you’re well-versed in conversions and building those funnels, it’s difficult to know if it’s paying off.
HAL: To blog or not to blog. How do you feel about blogging?
TIM: If writing’s your thing, from an SEO perspective, it’s great. Also, it gives you content to put in your email newsletter, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. If writing’s not your thing, make a podcast, make video, get that transcribed — now you have a blog. Something brief, a story about a case you worked. It doesn’t need to be 1,500 words. It could be how to get a witness to answer the door. I think the easiest way is to listen to what your clients are asking you, and answer those questions.
HAL: There are benefits to having a Web presence. But I use my site primarily as a verification source. I don’t update it as often as I should, and I don’t use it much as outreach.
I do like getting out of the office and meeting people, but it’s woefully inefficient. Same with guerrilla marketing: you can go down a rabbit hole and end up getting the tinfoil hat clients. But there are a number of things we can do as PIs to market our businesses. Somebody just posted: “I use car magnets. Got 6 clients, made $12,000.” There are all kinds of creative ways to build brand awareness. I try to focus my marketing efforts on things that — how do I say this — are not unclassy? I don’t want to do things that are too out-there cheesy.
TIM: I’m with you 100%. We talked about networking and getting away from the computer, meeting face-to-face. The challenge is time. It’s really inefficient. To set up one meeting, drive 30 minutes out there, have a lunch, follow up, how many times can you do that in a week? In a year? I’ve found that’s important to supplement, but networking groups have been really powerful.
Part of it is being present. But if you want to be perceived as a step above, as classy and sophisticated, and charge more, you’ve got to look the part, dress the part, talk the part. If you’re working with attorneys, dress like them, act like them, behave like them. If you go to a courthouse, go in a suit. Networking, in my opinion, is the fastest way to grow your audience beyond face-to-face meetings. You can get in front of 40 or 50 people in one lunch. It could take you a whole year to get 50 lunch meetings.
HAL: Pretty much every state has a criminal defense lawyers’ association. Those associations are chock full of attorneys who are doing the kind of work that I want to help them do. So I go to those meetings, I reach out to those people. That’s my marketing list. They host meetings and seminars, and you can pay to be a sponsor, set up a booth. Also, just being a member can be helpful.
HAL: Tim, have you ever spoken to a lawyers’ association?
TIM: Yes. They’re looking for speakers at these seminars. I probably speak once a month to different organizations. Make contact with the organizers, let them know you can be available if someone cancels. When you go, record your presentation — now you have a video of you speaking. Put it on your website. It’s a wonderful strategy.
The other secret I’ll give away is: Most law firms have what they call “partner meetings” or “associate trainings” on a weekly or monthly basis. They’re bringing content to the associates and paralegals, and they need people. So if you have a relationship with them, offer a topic: investigative training for paralegals. You just need to ask.
If you want to get started, you can even go to your Rotary or Chamber. They need speakers, and if you do a good job, people will spread the word and get you other speaking engagements.
HAL: Public speaking can be terrifying. But the more often you do it, the more comfortable you become. I’ve found that when I say yes to things that are a little bit frightening, it makes me better.
Also, getting in front of lawyer’s groups: Here in Nashville, there’s a group of divorce attorneys who meet once a month and share resources. Find out if those groups are meeting in your area, and offer to speak to them and tell them what you do as a private investigator. Reach out to paralegals. They’re the gatekeepers. If you befriend them and offer them solutions, you have a better change of getting in front of attorneys.
TIM: If Chamber events aren’t working for you, look for other organizations. But when you’re there, ask like-minded professionals where else they network. Find out what’s working for them. They’ll tell you. Look for lunchtime and evening groups. And like Hal said: Paralegals control the office. I was shocked to find out we couldn’t get into a law firm because the paralegal was getting gift cards and football tickets from another investigation firm. So Hal’s dead on: Make their life easier, make them feel loved, and it will go a long way.
HAL: Tim mentioned the Inns of Court. Typically, these are a little more prestigious groups of attorneys. I think they’re invitation only. If you can speak at one of those Inns of Court meetings, it’ll go a long way.
HAL: One thing I wanted to get to: Tim, I don’t understand LinkedIn. Talk to us about how to use it.
TIM: First step is getting your profile updated, optimized, and correct. Then, just like any platform or networking group, you’ve got to interact. You’ve got to post content, comment, share information, engage.
We use LinkedIn as an account management tool. As lawyers move from firm to firm, it’s a good way to keep track. Also, it’s a research tool. Before I meet someone, I want to know where they went to school, if they’re a Bruin or a Trojan. I want to know where they went to law school and where they’ve worked. I use LinkedIn before every single networking event or meeting, I review that person’s profile in depth so I have something to interject into the conversation.
Also, publishing content on a regular basis — for us it’s blogs, or our Santoni Stories — is significant in terms of reach. It’s a great way to get in front of the right folks. But also, if you’re looking for a civil litigator in Lubbock, it’s right there. As B2B folks, LinkedIn is your prospecting tool. You want to know who the current partners are at a law firm, it’s all there. And you’ve got to interact. Congratulate people on their birthdays or promotions. Also, LinkedIn has everyone’s email address. People I know well message me on LinkedIn instead of email because they saw something on there that triggered them to reach out. There’s tons of great data.
HAL: Another thing I’ve found is that a handwritten note really impresses people because nobody does it anymore. But all of this requires you to be involved in the conversations. You have to interact with people.
TIM: In our business, anyone who refers us gets a thank you note or even a gift card. Direct mail and cards are coming back because no one gets them. And they always say thank you for the card. And we do it every single time. Because referrals are the lifeblood of your business, and attorneys are your best source. I probably send 3 or 4 thank you cards a day. It’s really easy. I would argue that thank you cards ARE business development.
About the guest:
Tim Santoni is a licensed private investigator in California and has testified as an expert in cases involving workers’ compensation, counterfeiting, and a variety of other civil cases. Tim is passionate about risk mitigation and enjoys educating business owners on what they can do to mitigate risk in their businesses and how to protect themselves from those in their inner circle. Tim provides advice on how to be prepared for, investigate, and deal more effectively with litigation and workers comp claims if and when they arise.
Tim believes that businesses must implement certain strategies to mitigate exposure to embezzlement, fraud, workers compensation claims, trade secrets, theft and many other employment-related claims. In today’s litigious environment, you cannot eliminate lawsuits, but you can implement practices to reduce overall exposure.
Resources and Sites Mentioned in This Webinar:
Ruben Roel’s Investigator Marketing site
Tim Santoni’s YouTube channel
Hal Humphreys’ neglected company site, findinvestigations.com
Hal’s Instagram feed